Walgreens Settles Painkiller Case with DEA for $80 Million

A new set of pilot programs to help rein in painkiller abuse at the new Kaiser Permanente office and pharmacy in Castle Rock has special rules including no filling of painkiller scripts on Monday or Friday. Denver, Colorado, Tuesday, March 13, 2012. Joe Amon, The Denver Post
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MIAMI -- Federal authorities have reached an $80 million settlement with the Walgreens (WAG) pharmacy chain over rules violations that allowed tens of thousands of units of powerful painkillers such as oxycodone to illegally wind up in the hands of drug addicts and dealers, officials said Tuesday.

Mark R. Trouville, chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Miami field office, said Walgreens committed numerous record-keeping and dispensing violations of the Controlled Substances Act at a major East Coast distribution center in Jupiter, Fla., and at six retail pharmacies around the state. The drugs also included hydrocodone and Xanax.

Authorities said the Jupiter center failed to flag suspicious orders of drugs it received from pharmacies, and the retail outlets routinely filled prescriptions that clearly were not for a legitimate medical use. The upshot was many more doses of prescription drugs were available illegally on the street.

Trouville called Walgreens' actions "a clear example of inexcusable corporate conduct that existed only for greed and profit. National pharmaceutical chains are not exempt from following the law."

Walgreens is the nation's largest pharmacy chain with more than 8,000 stores and sales in 2012 of $72 billion, according to the company's website. A spokesman at the Deerfield, Ill.-based company said a statement might be issued later.

Florida has been a major East Coast source of highly addictive painkillers for illicit dealers and addicts. An ongoing crackdown in recent years - including passage of better prescription monitoring laws and numerous arrests of doctors, clinic operators and pharmacy owners - has reduced the number of illegal "pill mills" operating in the state.

Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the Walgreens civil penalty was the largest in the history of the Controlled Substances Act. He said Walgreens also agreed not to dispense certain tightly-controlled drugs for two years through the Jupiter distribution center and the six Walgreens locations: two in Fort Pierce and one each in Hudson, Port Richey, Fort Myers and Oviedo.

"We're tackling the problem from an entirely new angle," he said of pursuing a civil penalty rather than criminal prosecution.

The settlement also resolves similar allegations against Walgreens retail pharmacies in Colorado, Michigan and New York, Ferrer said.

A surge of oxycodone prescriptions at Walgreens became apparent after 2009, according to the DEA. To take one example, the store in Hudson went from 388,100 oxycodone units purchased in 2009 to more than 913,000 in 2010, then to 2.1 million in 2011. Trouville said the national average for pharmacy purchases of oxycodone is about 73,000 units.

"No one with an ounce of common sense can believe this is the proper way to conduct the business of medicine," he said.

In addition to the penalty and the two-year ban on dispensing certain drugs, the settlement requires that Walgreens create a new department to ensure regulatory compliance, a new training program for employees and that it end compensation for pharmacists based on prescriptions filled.

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The problems associated with narcotic pain medications are continuing to get more significant for those people who are actually legitimate users of such meds. I have had to change pain management specialists once already, 3 years ago, as a result of that first specialist getting out of the 'treatment by medication' business. Then, within the last 6 months, Walgreens would no longer fill legitimate prescriptions unless the physician would provide a treatment plan to Walgreens, stating how the physician was going to get the patient 'off the meds'. This demand, contrary to HIPAA, in my opinion, is no business of a pharmacy. I have, in essence, a congenital condition that will never allow me to 'get off' these meds. I no longer go to Walgreens, for prescriptions or for anything else. Now, my local CVS pharmacy, where I began filling my prescriptions after the Walgreens debacle, informed me this week that they will no longer fill prescriptions from my current pain management physician, since that pharmacy has determined that this physician is prescribing unreasonable quantities to other patients, though they stated that my scripts were fine and well within legitimate parameters. So, now, they will no longer fill prescriptions for ANY patient with scripts from that physician. Thank goodness that another CVS a few miles away has not yet stopped filling that physician's scripts. However, I see the writing on the wall, and I'm guessing that this doctor may be shut down sometime in the future. So I am forced to try to find yet another pain management specialist, just to keep getting legitimate, needed, medications. I realize that there are issues with physicians and pharmacies, but what about those of us with legitimate issues? I have had the same medications, with the same dosages, for well over 5 years. Why can't there be some options for individual cases? I'm desperately fearful that my needed medications will, in the not too distant future, be denied me, only to result in a significant decrease in quality of life. This is not right, but I have no idea how to fix it.

June 15 2013 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Does anyone believe they even flinched at that fine? I'm sure they made 5 times as much in profit.

June 13 2013 at 3:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well what do they expect when their employees are only required to know how to blink to work there.

June 13 2013 at 12:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Forget the $ 80 million take all of their assets and shut them down.
Corporations are people too. Just ask Romney.
This artificial entity has been an on going criminal opperation. It's owners should go to prison and all assets seized.
A street drug dealer would go to prison for much less of a crime. Where do these guys get off just paying off the government with the spare change bribe?

June 13 2013 at 12:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply



June 12 2013 at 11:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply



June 12 2013 at 11:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Any corporate biggie hauled off in handcuffs like they do the mom-and-pop pharmacy operators? (Didn't think so.) Also continually wonder when corporations are "fined" like this, who gets the money and how is it spent? The billions paid by tobacco companies never went to paying medical costs generated by smokers and only pocket change went to running "prevention" advertising. What a scam all around.

June 12 2013 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you have a hard time understanding the pharmacist, in other words if he has a problem speaking English, then find one who can.

June 12 2013 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good Lord what were they thinking or were they?
I could not get a refill from them,for a very very light
pain medicine.Wallgreens is a good reputable

June 12 2013 at 7:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ah the pain meds war waged by the government, Doctor refuse to fill pain meds because..well, it's a pain.

June 12 2013 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply